Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Teenage collaborative writing workshop

Over the last few months, Yoza editor-in-chief, Louise McCann has been leading a collaborative story writing workshop with four teenagers from Khayelitsha. Anthony Baatjies, Zandile Ntlatli, Christopher Mzamo and Lamla Nyikila have produced the m-novel Someone like me for publication on Yoza.

Read the Mobook Story Co-Lab Report about the writing workshop.


2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 7,600 times in 2010. That’s about 18 full 747s.


In 2010, there were 30 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 50 posts. There were 23 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 21mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was August 25th with 153 views. The most popular post that day was Press release: Launch of Yoza m-Novel Library.


Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for m4lit, m4lit project, kontax, book logo, and literature survey for project.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Press release: Launch of Yoza m-Novel Library August 2010


About the project August 2009


Reports March 2010


Literature Survey September 2009


Read the m-novels April 2010

It’s about reading, not paper vs pixels

In Nadine Gordimer advocates book over screen, the Mail & Guardian reports on a defense of the printed book against the onslaught of technology by the Nobel laureate and one of South Africa’s most distinguished literary figures. Below is my response.

Nadine Gordimer (Image: United Nations Photo. License: CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0)

Dear Nadine,

I too love the form of a book, the weight and smell of it, the feeling of the paper. I would be devastated if books were to vanish, relegated to museums. But one can’t ignore the changes that are happening in the world, nor the advantages that new technology offers. Books are highly durable — read on the mountain top without fear of the battery dying — but prohibitively expensive. Without libraries, our youth can’t access books. I agree that we desperately need libraries, but must concede that we probably won’t see them built and stocked for some time (if ever).

What our youth do have, however, are cellphones. The project that I lead, called m4Lit (mobiles for literacy), takes this book-poor/cellphone-rich context of South Africa — indeed of most of Africa — as a point of departure. If cellphones are what’s in the hands of young people then that is what we have to work with. On a mobisite and on MXit, we’ve published two short stories called Kontax, written in conventional English. In 7 months we’ve had over 33,000 reads of these stories. We asked young people to leave comments on chapters — over 3,000 received so far — and have run two writing competitions (e.g. make up a character you’d like to read about in the next Kontax story) with over 4,000 entries submitted. Through their comments, some of the readers have said that they don’t like reading books but that reading on their cellphones is fun and enjoyable. A few others have indicated that reading Kontax has changed they way they think about reading, from “that is something that I don’t do” to “this is fun.”

A key feature of phones, which books don’t have, is connectivity. With chapter comments left by our readers for all to see, reading moves from a solitary exercise to a more social one. While reading a book on one’s own is a very enjoyable pastime, a more social experience has huge potential for those who need help with texts through annotations (remember how useful it was when you got your hands on a school or university textbook that a previous learner had embellished with notes). This sort of marginalia can now be useful to a much wider audience, not only to one lucky learner each year. What’s more, in a publicly visible way there can be questions and answers as one reader leaves a comment wondering what is going on in the story, and another reader comments with the answer.

True, a cellphone needs a charged battery, but today’s kids have a habit of finding power one way or another. As a device it offers a viable distribution platform for the written word, not printed on paper but displayed in pixels. I think we need to acknowledge that while the pixel isn’t as soulful as a page of paper, it is infinitely better than nothing. Publishing format aside, 33,000 kids are reading and that is a good thing.

A cellphone is a viable complement, and sometimes alternative, to a printed book. If we want our youth to read, we need both. Viva the book! Viva the cellphone!

What’s the real innovation behind m4Lit?

At the World Bank’s Innovation Fair “Moving Beyond Conflict” event in Cape Town, Parvathi Menon, the CEO of Innovation Alchemy gave a short but very insightful presentation on innovation. A key question she asked was: What are the series of innovative ideas that together make an innovative proposition? People often stop at the first idea and think that’s the innovation. Don’t do that! The iPod was the platform not the key innovation. The killer “app” was being able to buy a song at a time for 99c and easily drop it onto a player.

Africa is book-poor but mobile phone-rich, so m4Lit’s idea to use phones as a way to get teens to read and write is an innovative one, right? No. Applying Parvathi’s points to m4Lit: for our readers the innovation isn’t reading and writing on mobile phones. It’s reading kick-ass stories, affordably, easily (they always have their cellphones with them, they don’t always have books or magazines with them), and being able to make comments and have the world see them in near real time (beats writing a snail mail letter to the author). These are the “layers” that make up the innovative proposition. The mobile phone simply enables all of this. Key to realising the innovative proposition is telling readers that the stories are there — so need to market effectively (and innovatively) — and quickly moderating readers’ contributions.

The obsession with mobile

Great quote by Arthur Attwell of Electric Book Works in Applying publishing tech in Southern Africa:

There is a justified obsession with mobile in developing countries. There are far more mobile phones in the developing world than the developed, and therefore a delivery device in nearly every pocket.

Digital Storytelling: The Evolution of Publishing Fiction on a Mobile Device (TOCCON 2010)

O'Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference 2010At O’Reilly Publishing Tools of Change (TOC) conference in New York was the session Digital Storytelling: The Evolution of Publishing Fiction on a Mobile Device by Geoffrey Young (StopWatch Media).

Mobile phones know where you are, what time it is, are communications devices and are fully programmable.
Starting question: Given these features, what story can you tell?

The Carrier is the first transmedia graphic novel as an iPhone app. In it’s “print” form, the novel would consist of 680 panels, 35 chapters — about 120 pages if printed out. Really it’s just images on a screen. But given the transmedia way it is told — in real time over 10 days — the story is a lot more.

Landscape mode of The Carrier iPhone appBecause mobile phones know what time it is, stories can be revealed over time. Depending on the time of day that reading begins, readers begin the story in a different way. This puts the storyteller in control. In real time the story pushes out messages.

The authors have created a lot of fictional sites — alternate reality game-like. They also created merchandise in Cafe Press that they linked to, which readers could buy. Messages were pushed to iPhone readers using Urban Airship (first 250,000 messages sent a free!) Geoff considered using SMS for messaging, but that option was too expensive (the author pays for the messages, not the reader).

This was an interesting presentation, given the transmedia features and story extras we built into Kontax.

Consumers in the Cloud: Google and Digital Books (TOCCON 2010)

O'Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference 2010At O’Reilly Publishing Tools of Change (TOC) conference: Consumers in the Cloud: Google and Digital Books presented by Abe Murray, Product Manager at Google Books.

There are millions (billions?) more browsers than ebook readers, so why not use the browser as an ereader? You can walk into a bookstore and buy any book. Not so with ebooks, e.g. Kindle locks you into ebooks from Amazon. Google no like … Google Books mantra: buy anywhere, read anywhere. So Google moves into the ereader market with Google Editions — it’s browser-based and in the cloud (of course)!

How it works: Users preview book on They can buy the book directly from or through retailer site. User then owns a Google Edition ebook. All users books will then be online and accessible anywhere, anytime in the cloud in their Google Books library. Further:

  • eBooks will be full colour (they were scanned in colour)
  • Social features / sharing margin notes
  • Seamless reading between devices
  • Using HTML5, users can also read offline
  • Simple ereader interface in the browser
  • Will support DRM and DRM-free content (depending on publisher requirements)
  • Will allow copy/paste/print or not (depending on publisher requirements)
  • Revenue split when buying directly from Google Books: 37% to Google, 63% to publisher
  • Territory rights of the publishers will be respected (not sure how they’re going to do this)
  • You’re not locked into Google if you buy their books.You can take the files with you if you leave. And devices should be able to access the open-standards data. Google Books is part of the Data Liberation Front at Google
  • Ideas: bundling ebook with print book
  • The Google eReader will launch in 2010, mostly likely in the early part of second half of the year.

Abe: “This is a great year for ebooks and Google’s gonna be part of that.”

OK, so this is all very interesting. Yes, Google will still be a
controlling party in the value chain (let’s not forget that they make
money … they don’t just love freeing information for the love of it).
But their control will be less restrictive than current publishers.
Definitely a space to watch.